A Brutal Tale Of Revenge In “The Nightingale” Is Expertly Crafted By Jennifer Kent


It’s a shame that female filmmakers are held to a different standard than men. When a woman makes a disturbing or violent movie, the response is far different than to that of her male counterparts. The takes are hotter and there’s a sense of almost questioning why she would mount this project. That’s not fair and a real shame. All throughout its time on the festival, that sort of discussion has surrounded Jennifer Kent’s follow up to The Babadook, the revenge tale The Nightingale. Though the flick is decidedly disturbing and violent, it’s also about something, so it’s hardly pointless bloodshed. In fact, one might say that Kent has found a way to make the brutality essential. It’s upsetting, but that’s the point.

The film is a period drama, set in 1825 during the time of British colonization. 21 year old Irish servant Clare (Aisling Franciosi) a mother to a young child and wife to Aiden (Michael Sheasby), lives under the thumb of the cruel Lieutenant Hawkins (Sam Claflin). Imprisoned in her past, she now operates as a form of his slave, desperately hoping he’ll write her a note that will truly set her free. Hawkins lusts after her, and when she rebuffs his advances at one point, it leads to a shocking display of violence against her family. This sets Clare off on a hunt for Hawkins, one in which she enlists the help of Billy (Baykali Ganambarr), an Aboriginal tracker. As they move through the dangerous Tasmanian wilderness, they not only confront evil, but their own prejudices as well. Kent writes and directs, with other cast members including Damon Herriman, Ewen Leslie, Charlie Shotwell, and more. Cinematography is by Radek Ladczuk, while the score is composed by Jed Kurzel.

Violence is a constant in this movie. Jennifer Kent takes all of the emotions that well up when vengeance is needed and splashes them across the screen. She doesn’t just use it as shock value, though. No, this is solely about driving the story forward. Aisling Franciosi’s Clare needs to be driven to this mission, and she certainly goes through enough to warrant this. Her performance is riveting. So too is Sam Claflin, whose Hawkins is about as vile a human as possible to be depicted on screen. Kent’s strong visuals, the terrific acting, and the sense of dread really do combine to make this a compelling experience.

The Nightingale certainly won’t be for everyone, At least one of the central scenes of violence may be too much for some audience members. Even beyond that, it’s a long film, one that has zero interest in pleasing you in any way. It has far less of a chance of being a mainstream success than The Babadook had. At the same time, it’s a more ambitious work, with just as much to say. Kent is going in an interesting direction as a filmmaker, following the beat of her own drummer. By and large, it’s a success here, offering a glimpse at a world rarely depicted on screen like this.

This weekend, audiences willing to risk being upset will have the opportunity to see a challenging work when The Nightingale opens. It’s worth mentioning again that there’s a pretty disturbing scene of violence here, one that could really upset some viewers. I’ve been vague on purpose, since it’s better to discover on your own, but it’s something to keep in mind. Still, this is the type of film worth seeking out. Love it or hate it, there’s discussion worth having about it once the movie ends. Give it a shot and see what you think. Just keep in mind that Kent’s new flick couldn’t be more different from The Babadook. This is truly a horse of a different color…


Be sure to check out The Nightingale, in theaters on Friday!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He also contributes to several other film-related websites.

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